By 1896 many components, combinations and designs had been tried in various typewriters and the winner was emerging; a typewriter with a remarkably quick and smooth typing action, a typewriter that would usher in the new century, conquer the world, and put an end to this period of rich diversity in typewriter design. The Underwood had arrived.
The Underwood typewriter was the first widely successful modern typewriter. It pulled together the three main design elements that would set the standard for the 20th century, a four-row straight keyboard, front striking type bars (giving visible typing) and one shift key. The Underwood was not the first to offer these essential features, the Daugherty was in 1893 (seen in this collection), but it was by far the better engineered machine.
Franz Wagner, a brilliant engineer who was involved with the Caligraph and other pioneering typewriters, sold his invention to the John Underwood & Co., a major supplier of typewriter ribbons. The first model, shown above, still maintained Wagner’s name stenciled onto the back of the frame.<p>
Over the next ten years, just about all of the under-strike (blind-writers) and index typewriters would be dropped from the market. The Wild West of typewriters was over.
The Underwood model 5 would remain in production from 1900 to the early 1930’s, making it the “Singer Sewing machine of typewriters”.
The following prophetic words (from the second letterhead shown below) were written to a prospective Underwood client in 1897. “ ..The Underwood Typewriter, which you will find, we think, a very interesting one, from the standpoint of what a writing machine should be.”